Week of Prep-
I usually contact the bride and groom at the start of the week to see if there is any drama or changes to the timeline I should know of.
I had one bride who just never got back to me about anything. The morning of her wedding I finally texted her. "So I show up at two at Lake Heron for your ceremony?" She immediately got back to me. "OH God no! We moved our wedding months ago to Blue Lake an hour away.” This is why communication is important.
Wedding is Saturday? Do not get your bags together Friday do it on Thursday. This gives you a whole day for if something is wrong to fix it. Your main lens won’t focus? You have a whole day to rent one or find someone to loan one to you. Where as if you are doing it late Friday night or the morning of you are screwed with time.
Go through your gear, make sure it is clean, functioning and you have backups of everything. Have it already to go. I put coordinates in GPS, my phone and also do a paper print out of directions and address and phone numbers. I can not tell you how many times on cloudy days gps had failed and paper directions have saved the day. I also make sure any assistants or second shooters have copies as well.
I had a wedding with a young lady as my assistant. I was two hours away in a small town shooting a wedding. Her job for the day was really to drive my car to the reception and man a Photo Booth that was a backdrop and a box of props. After the wedding I hopped on the party bus and she took my car. I left my phone on the bus while the bridal party and I were living it up in a field. Hop on the bus an hour had gone by and see twenty call to my phone. I call her back. She has been driving around in circles and can not find the place. She is screaming and crying hysterically at this point. I try to talk her down and give her directions. I hand the phone to a grooms men who tries to give her directions. After twenty minutes of trying to tell her how to get there. She texts me and says her boyfriend is driving out to come get her, she is leaving my car a half hour away with the doors unlocked and the keys in it. Luckily no one stole my car or my backup gear in it. I had to refund my couple the money they paid for a Photo Booth. I stayed until the very end of the night and made sure to captured extra fun shots to make up for this. We were in a small town in the middle of nowhere with no taxis. A generous bridesmaid and groomsmen took the half hour out of their long day to drive me to the town she left my car at. I gave them a free family photoshoot and am still friends with them to this day. When I later tel this story people immediately think to side with me and feel bad but I was not a good boss and should of had her prepped including a directions print out of all information.
You should also pack snacks and water. You will need them. You often don’t have time to eat until everyone is served at the reception except to steal in a granola bar here and there. These are long days and you do not want to pass out. There are also times when even though you discussed it you are not fed at the venue and have to make due.
Clothes- I usually wear all black or gray. The material is durable, needs to be easy to wipe dust and dirty off of. Most churches are really dusty. It needs to be clean, no tears and long enough to cover plumbers crack and high enough that you are not giving the groomsmen a show. This can be tricker then you think. You might think your breasts are covered but then you camera strap swings down exposing a whole boob. I love pants because then you don’t have to worry about the wind blowing your skirt up. During hot summers I do love a skirt but I do recommend shorts underneath. If it is a hot summer I know a lot of people and I even recommend it to bridesmaids and bride that you but deodorant on your thighs, no rash, sweat and grossness. I try not to wear jewelry or anything a kid or my camera can catch on and break. i do wear a watch so that it does not look like I am constantly looking at my phone for time. Comfortable sneakers are a must, there is not much off your feet time. I really to believe you should fade into the background.
I once showed up to a Catholic wedding and the videographer was wearing combat boots, a tutu, and cotton candy pink hair. I actually liked her look and she was a good videographer, but people looked at her more then the bride and it was like a neon sign moving about the church and actually distracting during the ceremony. I believe in showing off your personality but I believe even more that this day is not about you and you should shoot for a neutral look like a guest not an attraction.
You should also keep extra clothes in your car incase you split a seam, fall in some mud or there was that lovely time my assistant showed up to a wedding in khaki shorts and a tank top so I had her change into one of my backup dresses.
I use to carry a tackle box that had everything I thought might come in handy for the couple: double sided tape, pens, deodorant, wisp tooth brushes, a sewing kit and more. It rescued many a wedding but I had a bridesmaid walk off with it. After that I paired it down to the essential emergency items that were always used and keep them in my shooting bag.
What in the bag!
I use to use a slingback bag but it didn’t have enough room. I now use a Think Tank Streetwalker Pro. Durable, lightweight, breathable. I like to be able to keep my bag on my back because sometimes we are moving fast across a field and I do not want to have to go back a lugg along a rolling bag. I actually pack lighter then a lot of wedding photographers.
In the bag (at least):
2 camera bodies- 2 zoom, 2 prime lenses, 8 camera batteries, 2 battery chargers, shooting cards in a weatherproof case (compact and sd), a set of macro filters, 2 flashes, 2 transmitters, gel pack, extra sync cords, rain sleeve, hot shoe video light, triple and double A batteries, loose cash, swiss army knife, scissors, pens, smarties, extra directions and numbers papers, tape light stand umbrella. reflector kept in car. On some occasions my card reader and laptop with an iPad.
Lets go through the what and why of each item.
2 camera bodies- you need at least two, you always need a backup it is not a matter of if but when a camera body will stop working at a wedding. I use Canon but am thinking of switching to Sony. I have not been happy with the shadow recovery and low light focus on Canon. I did look at Nikon and enjoyed the quality but not the camera design on button placement with the way I shoot.
I was shooting a wedding the next town over from my home. We did first look and I just snapped the last family formal shot when my camera came up with Error 99. It was 45 minutes until the wedding. I tried new batteries, lenses, cleaning it, turning it on and off, calling the local camera shop and calling my friends to see if anyone could drive me out a camera, all no help. i drove down the street crying and screaming like a maniac to the local Walmart. I had just enough money in my account to buy a Rebel camera body. I did and dove like the wind back to the church. The ceremony started 15 minutes late and the Bride's Dad was pretty sure I was a psycho on the verge of a heart attack but the rest of the day went by ok. I lucked out. It could have been far worse. I have never shot another wedding without a backup.
In fact I was shooting a wedding a few years later and was doing portraits in the church before the ceremony when my camera stopped working. My second shooter actually panicked and started freaking out saying, “What are you going to do?” I laughed and grabbed my backup from my bag. She breathed a sigh of relief and said she did not have a backup. It was the last time I used her. Ideally you should have 3 or even four because shit definitely happens.
Your camera bodies should be professional calibar with high iso range. Why? Because you can't reshoot and you get into some crazy spots. Almost all churches will tell you no flash no matter how dark they are.
I had a bride who moved her wedding date and I was not available. I called a friend who was open. Two weeks after the Bride’s wedding she came to me and said, “Oh everything went great but is there anyway I could fix these images for her." The church said no flash. She was shooting with a Canon Rebel in Automatic mode. The iso did not go anywhere near as high as it needed to and in automatic mode it was trying to figure out light not movement. Every single ceremony shot was completely blurry and unfixable.
New Years Eve Wedding- gorgeous light and church all day, until sun set at 6pm. The ceremony was at 6:30pm. No flash and literally one tiny penlight at the front of the church, one of the darkest shoots ever. Even with my lens opened up to 2.0 my Mark II could not go high enough at 6400 iso. I had to pick up my Mark III and shoot the entire ceremony at 12,800 iso. I would have been screwed if I did not have professional gear.
You should always test your cameras out and get to know them before actual paying clients so you know what you are doing. Give yourself homework practice on friends. Something as simple as putting on the camera strap. I remember i opened up my new Mark II at a beautiful stone floor church. Did not take the time to set it uo as I should of before my client's big day. Put the strap on it, stood up and that beautiful new camera slid off the strap and hit that hard stone floor and slid. Extremely embarrassing and I deserved it, luckily the camera was ok but it was really dumb luck!
Lenses- You need fast lenses that can shoot at lower apertures and backup ones. I usually shoot with a 24 to 124 F4 L series lenses and 50mm prime. Why these? Well I would have the Zoom on my camera because it only goes down to F4. I forget to move up the 2.8 to 5.6 for family photos and have an entirely blurry back row of people. I love the beautiful Bokeh (blurry background) so I would shoot with a 50mm 1.4 for a lot of the getting ready. You really do need the 70-200 2.8 series lenses for when I was going to be in a church that would not let me near the front. This lense is actually the favorite of almost all wedding photographers. It is fast and has beautiful compression on the background. I bought a cheaper knock off Tamron for 800 instead of the 2 grand L series from Canon and I ended up selling it off because it was nowhere near as good.
Some people keep the lens hoods on to prevent flare and from anything touching the glass. I do not. I did put a protective filter on the from the startand call it good.
prime or zoom-
Some photogs would buy the 24-70 and the 70-200 and call it a day. Others would buy a 35, 50, 85, and 100 prime lenses and be happy. iIdo not like having to switch out my lens so I did not want to go the just prime route. I also love my shallow depth of field so I wanted prime. I discovered from looking at the meta data on my zoom photos that 90 percent of the time I was at the 50 mm mark anyway. So I would shoot with two cameras on my hips like an old west gun slinger, one zoom and one 50mm. This way when I need that wide gorgeous shot with the trees and sky I did not have to change lenses just grab the other camera on my hip then I could go back to my 50mm.
Speaking of gunslinging your camera strap is important. Do not wear your camera around your neck. You will do permanent damage to the vertebrae there. If you can not afford a new strap yet wear it diagonal slung across your chest off your shoulder. Black Rapid and Money Makers make great camera strap systems. I did try out a handstrap but I can’t tell you how many times in my job I have had to just drop my camera to hang while I catch something a kid threw or give my bride my hands for help.
Video light- small compact, great for lighting details and cake also fun dancing shots.
Camera batteries- why 8? they go bad, don’t charge fully, run down quicker when shooting video like I do, or second shooters might need one, cold weather drains them. My no name brand ones died a lot quicker then my Canon ones but it is the difference between spending 60 dollars and 200. The extra chargers should be opbivious as a just in case. I have also have had wedding guests who are so upset because their camera battery died and I let them use my charger and they are grateful. One year alone I let batteries charging at 6 different venues and they were gone by the time I went back the next day for them. 6x200 for batteries and 6x50 for chargers and you have a $1500 mistake that year. This is why I love my Think Tank bag. At the end of the night when I open it up if there is an empty space I know I am missing something and grab it before heading out the door.
Shooting Cards- My camera uses Compact Flash cards, you will notice that in the above I mentioned I always carry SD cards as well. Just in case my second shooter needs one or sometimes the Mother of the Bride's camera ran out of memory and I will loan her one. My Mark III backs up to a compact flash card and an SD card which is great in case one fails!
The Compact flash cards are 3 times more expensive then SD cards. I do feel it is a lot easier to break and damage an SD Card. i have tried to save money by purchasing knock off brand cards and I have had a range of issues with different brands from, freezing to not being able to write the files fast enough, to corrupt files. i fully believe in Lexor and Sans Disk this is not something you want to take a chance with.
A strong durable case is important. When I use one card I put it in the case backwards as a signal that that card is used so my second shooter knows and so I don’t reach for it and reformat it. All of my cards are reformatted and ready before shooting. If I am working on a wedding I will not use those compact flash cards and will not reformat them until the wedding is out and approved of by the bride just in case something happens.
Macro filters- I love details shots but did not want to lug around an expensive macro lens for just a few detail shots. I bought a 10 dollar filter set off of Amazon that screws onto my 50mm and I love how easy is is to use and how little room it takes up.
Flashes- As always you need more then one for a backup and good light. I carry a transmitter for off camera flash for backlit shots. I spent 400 on a set of Pocket Wizards and was having problems with misfiring and humidity. I spent a 100 on a Phottix transmitter and have not had a problem since. I know a lot of photographers that like to spend the money on more expensive transmitters so they are able to change the flash setting remotely. I don’t feel the need to. Sync cords go bad so always have extra and I can’t tell you how many times groomsmen have borrowed them to hook their iPhone playlists up to the party bus. I also carry a small pack of gels so I can turn my flash a tungsten color to match the reception hall lights. Modifiers- there are so many out there from Gary Fong to MagMod. Everyone swears by something different try them out and find your fav. I like the Rogue benders, light portable and easy.
Rain sleeve- It is basically a big plastic bag with a draw string but you never know.
I was shooting a wedding at a field next to the Bride’s Grandmother’s house. Ten minutes before the wedding it starts sprinkling. The Bride looks up says “We are doing this,.” I slap my sleeve on and shoot the ceremony.
Triple and Double AA batteries- lots! Flashes and transmitters take up a lot of batteries. I tried using rechargeable and bought several kinds from Energizer to Enloop but none worked well or stayed charged well so I went back to using regular batteries. There are different kinds of battery packs you can us but I have not had much success with them either.
Scissors, masking tape, pens, a permanent marker.
Scissors are a life saver and used none stop for things such as cutting tags off of Bridesmaids' dresses. Same with masking tape. I can’t tell you how many times my Swiss army knife has rescued a bottle of wine. I had an eloping couple have their wedding on the covered bridge from the movie Bridges of Madison County. So many couples signed the inside of the bridge. My groom was sad he had nothing to sign their names with until I pulled my trusty permanent marker out of my bag. Do you know how many times I have pulled out a pen for the marriage license to be signed? Such small things but they go a long way to making the day smoother and easier for your couples and they will remember your help.
Smarties- small colorless, easily concealed in the mouth, does not crush like cheerios and an instant easy bribe for kids!
Extra info papers for second shooters or bridal party or anyone else that needs one.
Light stand and umbrella- The umbrella is usually only ever taken out for family formals and the stand for off camera flash and back lighting.
Loose change- parking meeting, tipping valets and bartenders, unexpected toll booths, dollar dance so many reasons to need money.
Wooden Hanger- because half the time their beautiful expensive wedding dress is on a cheap plastic hanger that looks like crap in photos.
Well that is the week before prep in a nutshell! Sure there is something I forgot! Comment Below if you think of something!